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I have long loved the beautiful, pastoral portraits of the Georgian Era. Women and children posed in fields and beneath trees painted by artists like Thomas Gainsborough marked a departure from the stiffer, more formal portraits of a generation before. Some of my favorite paintings are by George Romney and Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (you can view several in the slideshow gallery above).

When I created the Girls’ 1780s Portrait Dress pattern, I knew I’d want to follow up with a women’s version–and hundreds of customer requests confirmed that! The construction of the dresses offered in this pattern comes from the study of dozens of portraits, plus scrutiny of extant gowns for women from this time period, but I’ve stuck with conventional machine techniques in the instructions to allow for ease of sewing. If you are a die-hard who wants an authentic gown, I do have an appendix with all the vintage sewing steps laid out in detail.

This pattern includes options for a smooth-bodice dress that fastens up the front, a polonaise with pointed bodice front, and a drawstring bodice dress that slips over the head. It also offers elbow-length sleeves with optional ruffles and fitted long sleeves. Please note that correct underpinnings are required for views 1 and 2.

This pattern is rated advanced intermediate because of the sewing knowledge and fitting skills required. If you can make a Regency gown, you are ready to move on to this pattern, and I am always available through the Contact Form if you have questions!

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: A customer caught an error in this pattern on 12/27/10. The sleeve instructions say to match the crossed circles, but you actually don’t need to do that. It’s the girl’s version of this pattern that has the crossed circles. To match the sleeves properly, you only need to start at the armhole angle by matching the sleeve corner (with a 5/8″ overlap as illustrated). Pin around the smooth side of the sleeve until you reach the “leftover” portion that needs to be pleated. Pleat into place and finish at the corner. That’s it! If you purchased this pattern after June 2011, the instructions are already corrected.


93 comments on “Ladies’ 1780s Portrait Dress Pattern”

  1. Mrs. Chancey,

    The new Ladies’ 1780s Portrait Dress Pattern is lovely. The dress is beautiful and every small detail adds so much femininity.
    I would love to have this pattern in the future!

    Many Blessings,
    Jenna

  2. Is there a size chart for this pattern? The hyperlink above does not take you to a size chart. I cannot find a size chart on Vision Forum page either. I am a larger size and am trying to determine if the pattern goes up to my size or not. Thank you.

    • Hello, Erin! Look up at the bulleted list below the main pattern information on this page. The last item in the list is a clickable link to download the yardage/size chart in PDF format. The link is a download, so you need to have pop-ups approved for sensibility.com in your browser, or it will prevent the download from opening. When pop-ups are enabled, you’ll see a download box open on your computer. Just double-click the PDF file to open it. 🙂

  3. Sooo pretty 🙂 Will the drawstring dress work without the underpinnings? Can I get away with modern underpinnings on that one? Also, how well do you think the drawstring dress would fit over a pregnant belly? 🙂

  4. Oooh, that means I’d have to think before sewing 😛 Lol, thanks 🙂 It’s such a pretty dress. I’d be afraid to do white, but maybe a nice burgundy would work…

  5. I just had a quick question…the vintage portrait ladies seemed to have more shapely underpinnings than the ones in the modern photos. The stays you used on views 1 and 2 seemed to be more stiff than the ones in the vintage photos. Is there any way to maybe use less boning to make the stays more flexible to your form so the stays don’t look quite as stiff in the front?

  6. Hello! I’ll add more details about underpinnings to the description above. I used the Georgian Stays pattern from the Mantua Maker for the smooth-front bodices. You can use cording instead of boning if you prefer a softer look, but stays are absolutely required for those two views, as the bodice will not fit without correct underpinnings. The drawstring option will fit over conventional underpinnings or Regency stays if you prefer. Hope this helps!

    • This pattern is definitely later, though the polonaise option would pass for mid-to-late-1770s with the proper trimmings (like bows or lacing across the front to resemble a stomacher). Hope this helps!

  7. Jennie, I have my stays almost done, just 8 eyelets to go. What other underthings are your models wearing in these pictures?
    My children have just started studying the American colonies in their homeschool co-op and it is fun to work on this while doing so.

  8. Hi, Becky! A chemise goes beneath the stays, and a petticoat (from the waist to hemline) goes over the stays. That’s all! Ladies of the time also had pocket hoops for polonaise gowns, though sometimes a “bum roll” was used instead if less fullness was desired. You can actually use the chemise from my Regency Underthings Pattern with gowns made from this pattern, though earlier chemises tended to have elbow-length sleeves. It’s easy to lengthen the rectangular sleeves on my chemise, though, to make it right for the 1780s. And a chemise would double as a nightgown, too! Hope this helps!

  9. I was wondering…do you have to have special paper to print the ePattern? Do you know when the ePattern will be on the website?
    Thank you for making such beautiful things possible to have!

    • Hi, Emily! No special paper required. The ePatterns print on standard American 8.5×11″ paper and A3 paper. I will post as soon as the ePattern for the Ladies’ 1780s dress is ready. I am in Kenya now and didn’t have a printer to test the ePattern sheets for accuracy until just recently. I am working on the ePattern now!

  10. I only buy electronic patterns because I don’t have a large place to store patterns. I’ve been waiting for this one since it was supposed to be out February 1st as an electronic one. It’s getting to middle of March. Has there been a chance in decision on it being released electronically? I need to know soon so I’ll know if I have to change a costume plan. Thanks.

    • Camille, our family moved to Kenya in January and didn’t get reliable Internet access until late February. I didn’t have a printer until a couple of weeks ago, and it wouldn’t work with my computer until last weekend, so I wasn’t able to do anything to get the ePattern ready. I have it ready now, but I am unable to put it up on the site due to a problem on the back end that my web developer is trying to fix (the new WordPress upgrade has removed all my “add product” buttons for some odd reason). If you need this in a hurry, you can simply Paypal $9.95 to contact@sensibility.com with a note in the invoice that it is for the Ladies’ 1780s ePattern, and I will email you the zip file. I apologize for the long wait, but some things are totally out of our control over here in Africa. 😉

  11. Thank you, I do. I have a production coming up and we’re each responsible for out own costumes. There are only a couple women’s patterns the director will allow for my character. The other isn’t anywhere near what I need, so would take a lot of fiddling. This one matches his vision. If I bought the paper pattern, I’d have to throw it away after use because of the space issue.

    I have a gift certificate for $20. Is there a way to use that?

  12. Hi Mrs. Chancey

    I was wondering what exactly your model was wearing under the white dress. the sleeves seem to be see through and yet the rest of the dress is not. is it part of the dress (lining, and if it is how would you do that).

    Thanks
    Micheline

    ps. Sorry to bother you out in Africa

  13. No bother, Micheline! We just sometimes go for days without any Internet connection, so thanks for your patience! 🙂 The bodice of the model dress was interlined with pima cotton (which means you treat the lining and bodice pieces as one and baste them together around all edges prior to assembling the bodice). She also wore a full petticoat, made according to the instructions in the pattern.

  14. I was just wondering, how would pocket hoops or pannieres fit into the pattern. (More referring to the first dress, I know the Robe de la Reine doesn’t require much underpinnings.)

    Are there adjustments in the pattern, or would I have to edit the skirt myself?

  15. Hi,

    Is the white dress with blue sash the drawstring dress you mentioned? I like the white one better than the others. Also, where could I find cording for the stays?

    Thankyou

    • Hello, Ariel! Yes, the white gown is the drawstring dress. As you can see, it is gathered all across the front. Cording is simply that–cord that you can purchase at any fabric or craft store. It is often used for piping in upholstery projects and is available in very narrow widths perfect for cording stays. Hope this helps!

  16. I am super excited about the drawstring option as a possible wedding dress, I just got engaged. I am so glad all these comments were posted, now I have had many of the questions I was going to ask (see thru sleeves, petticoat needs etc…) answered. Is the white version relatively easy for an intermediate sewer to do? Looks like it might be. What is that type of fabric called? It’s so sheer and pretty. I wanted to find a cotton wedding dress for our outdoor in the woods wedding, one that covers my arms. Your site was the 1st that popped up when I googled “old fashioned dress patterns”. I love it. This is like the dress I had envisioned in my head since I was a little girl dreaming about my wedding. Simple. 🙂

    • Congrats on your coming wedding, Cathy! I am so glad you’ve enjoyed my site. 🙂 The drawstring dress is easy enough for an intermediate seamstress, yes, and the fabric I used for the model gown is Egyptian muslin, bit voile gives a similar look. Have fun sewing!

  17. PS ~ I’m larger sz and busty…sz 12 40DDD. I think this style would work without modifications…it’s pretty loose up top but for the drawstring isn’t it?

    • You may need to add a bit of length to the bodice front to give the required room in the bust, but test-fit with an inexpensive fabric first as directed, and you’ll see what you need to do. Enjoy preparing for your wedding!

  18. If the drawstring dress is made with fabric heavier than muslin or toile, would it be possible to make it without the lining? I just have nightmarish memories of making things with lining :).

    • Hi, Hannah! As called for in the instructions, the dress has no lining, so you’re good to go. And “lining” is actually a misnomer, as you would interline the material if you’re using something sheer and don’t want the underthings to show through. That means simply backing each piece of fabric with pima cotton or another suitable lining prior to sewing the pieces together. Hope this helps!

  19. Thank you for the link to Jas. Townsend and sons. I have always loved Colonial woman’s clothing, and I wondered about the hat myself.

    Thanks again!

  20. Don’t quite know how I came to your site, but I love it. I do a one woman play about a lady in the Eastern U.S. in the late 1800’s. Would the drawstring dress work for that era? Need something plain and simple. What I am using now is a shirtwaist blouse and ankle length gathered skirt, but really would prefer a one piece costume.

    • Hi, Barbara! So glad you’ve enjoyed my site. If you’re playing a lady from the late 18th century (1790s), then this pattern is perfect. But if you’re playing a lady from the lady 1800s (1890s), then I’m afraid it’s totally wrong. You’ll actually want to go for a long gored skirt like my “Beatrix” Skirt pattern, plus a blouse with leg o’mutton sleeves (such as THIS ONE from Past Patterns). Hope this helps!

  21. I have the Period Impressions 1770 Polonaise and Petticoat pattern, which is similar to the Polonaise gown here. Can you tell me the differences between the 1770s style and the 1780s style?
    I see most extant styles have a stomacher in the earlier period.

    • Hi, Sarah! Yes, the earlier styles used a stomacher and had different approaches to the bodice back. The saque-back all but disappeared by the 1780s (except for court dress), and the extremely elongated waist also vanished in favor of a more natural waistline (though you still find pointed bodices in the 1780s–just not as extreme as the earlier bodices). Hope this helps!

  22. Hi, Kelly! Yes, that is very easy. The polonaise option is already very close to the 1770s. All you need to do is widen the bodice front to make a large enough opening for a stomacher. The stomacher can fasten in with hooks and eyes beneath the bodice front edges and can also have ribbon lacing across it if you like. Hope this helps!

  23. Could you use this pattern with a different corset pattern maybe one of the transition period stay or past patterns 1820-40’s corset. I have read that mantua pattern is extremely hard to put together and past patterns stays have far better reviews so I was wondering if one of them could be used

    • Hi, Virginia! You can actually use any Georgian stays pattern you like, but you most definitely have to double-check the neckline/shoulder fit while wearing those stays, as the pattern was designed over stays from the Mantua Maker pattern. Another set of stays with a slightly different configuration may mean the straps end up showing at the shoulder area of the wide neckline. But as long as you follow the toile fitting steps (included in the pattern instructions) and make any needed adjustments, you’ll be fine! I don’t recommend using stays for the Regency period or later, because those do not compress the bustline but push it up, which gives the wrong fit for this gown. Hope this helps!

  24. This is a gorgeous pattern and I’m hoping to have it as a present soon!
    I have got one question, other than the stays, what underthings would be worn with dresses like these?

    • Hi, Jasmine! The pattern includes an appendix all about underthings, including pattern recommendations. Ladies wore a chemise beneath their stays, then full-skirted petticoats over the stays. Hope this helps!

  25. I just bought this pattern and have high hopes for a new summer gown, I am having trouble, however, trying to envision the back view of the gathered bodice version . . . it the back gathered as well, or is it more fitted? Is there a back view posted somewhere that I missed?

    • Hi, Jacki! The back is smoothly fitted as shown in all other views. That’s how chemise gowns worked during this time period with drawstrings in the front only. Have fun sewing!

  26. Greetings! I have two questions. Is there any way to raise the back neckline so it covers more of the back and is closer to the neck? And my second question is how do you do the pleats on the front skirt panel for the drawstring dress option? Thanks in advance! Kelly

  27. Hi, Kelly! Raising the back neckline is a little bit tricky, as it involves changing the width of the shoulder pieces that come from the bodice front and raising the height of the side back and center back pieces as well.

    I suggest making a mock-up bodice in inexpensive muslin and putting it onto a mannequin (or putting it on yourself with a friend handy to help). Then place a plain square of muslin wide enough to fit inside the back neckline from just below the neckline as-is to the nape of your neck and at least an inch under the shoulders. Then use a fabric marker to draw a new back neckline on the square. Pin the muslin carefully in place so it doesn’t slip during this process. Now take off the bodice and trim along your markings to create the new neckline.

    The last bit of work is figuring out where to break up that muslin square into different pieces for center back, side back, and shoulders. Once that’s done, add a seam allowance where needed for each, then baste those pieces to your muslin mock-up (which you’ve now taken back apart). That gives you new pieces with the altered neckline in place. Hope that makes sense! 🙂

  28. With all the excitement about using the curtains from Lowes to sew an 18th century dress I am reconsidering this pattern.

    I was also wondering if the drawstring version is the correct pattern to make a Chemise a la Reine using white lawn?

    • Hi, Lynette! Yes, this will work for a Chemise a la Reine, but if you’re going for the look of the one in the Platt Hall collection, you’ll want to run two more sets of drawstrings through the bodice about two inches above the waistline and right below the bust (OVER the appropriate stays for the proper bust height). Hope this helps!

  29. Hi Jenny! I’m a little confused about making a sheer drawstring over-the-head dress with an opaque binding (to cover conventional underthings). I’m trying to figure out which pattern pieces to cut out for the sheer fabric and the lining fabric. I see in the main pattern, view 3, no lining is included. When directed to the Appendix II, View 3, I found directions that suggest I should cut the bodice center front at the fold to make the opening. I don’t want an opening in the front, right, just in the back. Is that just a typo? Thanks so much for your help!

    • Hi, Lisa! Sorry about the confusion. Appendix II gives authentic construction techniques, which would include the front opening (rather than the slip-over-the-head option). If you want a sheer bodice, don’t use lining–only binding to enclose the neckline edge and the waistline seam. If you want an opaque dress, flat-line the bodice as shown (also called “interlining”). As given in the main instructions, the drawstring gown is sheer and has no back or front opening. Hope this helps! Warmly, Jennie

  30. Is the drawstring version a “chemise a la reine”? Also, do the half sleeve flounces come from the chemise/shift underneath, or are they sewn on to the gown?

    • Hi, Holly! This is a pull-over-the-head version of a chemise a la reine. If you want to make it closer to the majority of extant gowns, you can have it open down the front with the drawstrings used for closure at the neckline and waist. 🙂 And the flounces are sewn to the end of the elbow-length sleeves. Hope this helps!

  31. The view with the drawstring to me looks a bit 1790s when the waist was beginning to rise and skirts were still quite full. I was wondering if would confirm or correct my analysis on this.

  32. Hello Jennie!
    Would the polonaise option work as an open robe a l’anglaise if the skirt were left hanging down rather than hitched up? I have it in mind to make an anglaise for the Stamford Georgian Festival here in the UK and I wondered if this pattern would be suitable.
    Also, do you have any information about changes in the shape and structuring of stays during the Georgian period? I’m keen to know whether they changed much in terms of how long or short they were, whether there were different levels of boning or cording during different parts of the period etc. Does anything spring to mind?
    Thanks!
    Anna

    • Hi, Anna! Yes, you can certainly leave off the loops and let the skirt hang down–that’s the main option for this dress, in fact. Stays in the Georgian period are widely varied, because you are looking at a time period spanning 1714-1830 with a parenthesis for the Regency Era from 1811-1820. Early Georgian stays are much more conical and flat than those that followed in the 1760s and 1780s. The boning also changes from full boning to half boning (see this excellent article with illustrations). In the 1780s, stays featured tabs around the bottom to allow for more movement at the natural waistline. Transitional stays came in around 1795, shortening to support only the breasts because of the new empire waist silhouette. Women wore short stays and long stays with a central busk for about 25 years before returning fully to long stays with boning to pull in the waistline as needed for the Romantic Era and later Victorian silhouettes. I hope this is helpful!

      • Hi Jennie! Thank you very much for the information about stays! The Georgian era is a long period, so it stands to reason that the stays changed somewhat during that time. I’m beginning to get a feel for how the silhouette changed, which of course has a lot to do with the shape of the stays, though I’ve definitely got research to do still! The American Duchess article looks very informative. I think at the moment my understanding is limited by having never made a pair of stays, bodies, corsets or anything of the like before, so I can’t easily imagine what the relationship is between how a stay is constructed and the shape that it will produce. Before the Automobile features two beautiful sets of stays – a 1740s pair and a 1780s pair – and I confess that though I can see that they have some differences, I don’t know why they aren’t interchangeable in terms of the dresses that they suit. Oh well… I’ll get there in the end! I did at least understand what you said about stays with central busks vs. stays with boning that pulled in the waistline. Thanks!

        The article http://demodecouture.com/polonaise/, which I’ve just discovered, would seem to suggest that a gown is only truly to be called a polonaise if the bodice and skirt are cut in one, with no waist seam; otherwise, in the time period, it would have been considered an anglaise or francaise worn retroussee. That’s useful information, though I like this dress anyway! For my anglaise, I do want a pattern with the en fourreau back, but I like both the chemise dress and the smooth-bodice dress in this pattern – would the smooth-bodice dress have been called a closed robe in the eighteenth century? I really like them.

        • Hi again, Anna! That article was news to me, as I’ve seen gowns in the V&A Museum labeled “polonaise” that have a waistline seam. But I very much respect and trust Kendra van Cleave’s research, so I’d say go with what she says! That makes my dress option en fourreau. The version without the open skirt in the front is called a “round gown,” because it doesn’t have the petticoat showing (instead, the petticoat and skirt would be sewn in together at the waistline with no break at the front). A closed gown is a Robe à l’anglaise, which has no waistline seam but pleats that release into the skirt at the back.

          As for stays, yes, you would not believe how differently the styles shape the body! It all depended on the silhouette in fashion at the time. Full boning (early Georgian) gives a far more columnar look. Think of the wooden fashion dolls of the time, which were used to display the latest designs in miniature. The torso looks like an angled barrel–all the emphasis is on pushing in the bust and creating that conical waistline. Posture, posture, posture! Later half-boned stays give a slightly more natural form, but it’s really in the transitional period of the 1790s that things relax and women only really need to support the bust (their version of the push-up bra!).

          I hope this helps! Enjoy all the research!

  33. Hi Jennie! As far as the nomenclature goes, Kendra may well be right that the polonaise meant, in the eighteenth century, a gown that had no waist seam, though I too had noticed that there were gowns with hitched-up skirts but with waist seams referred to as polonaises in the collections of respected museums. I think Kendra makes a good case, and I’m all for accuracy, so I think I’ll embrace that terminology myself. But I won’t get heated over such matters – they’re just old clothes!

    Thanks for the clarification of terminology. “Round gown” = dress with one skirt coming all the way around the body, rather than dress with visible underskirt. Round gowns of the last quarter of the eighteenth century could be found either with straight or pointed bodices, I understand. I like both!
    And thanks for the extra information about stays. It does figure that half-boned stays and fully-boned ones will shape the figure in similar ways as long as they are cut to the same pattern; but those transitional stays, which produced the pigeon-breast effect of some 1790s outfits, and later developments at the beginning of the nineteenth century, certainly did shape the figure quite differently.
    The next part of my corsetry research journey will consist of discovering how differently Georgian stays shaped the body compared to seventeenth-century versions. Every year I go to a folk festival that features Playford dancing, and this year I am dreaming of making a dress in the style of 1651, the year the first Playford Dancing Master was published, to wear at the dances…! I’m a fruitloop. 😉

    I certainly will enjoy all the research. 🙂 Thanks very much for your generosity with your time in answering my questions. It’s much appreciated!

    • You are most welcome! That’s what I’m here for. And we all learn from each other! I have so enjoyed my forays behind the scenes into museum collections in the UK and US. What a wealth of information we discover when we see extant garments first-hand!

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